Critics' Corner: Screaming About Unscary Movies

Critics' Corner: Screaming About Unscary Movies

Oct 24, 2010

Halloween’s almost here, and Dave and Jen are not sufficiently terrified yet. Why not?

Dave: There have been no scary movies yet this horror season.

Jen: And we’ve had demons…

Dave: And creepy kids…

Jen: And Katherine Heigl. None of them scared you?


Dave: No. Let Me In is really good, as you know. And Hatchet II was hilariously and brutally gory.

Jen: I especially do not love gore. Why do you?

Dave: Because guts are great. I’m charmed by them. But Chain Letter?

Jen: Stupid.

Dave: Devil?

Jen: Stupid elevators.

Dave: My Soul to Take?

Jen: Stupid boring. I didn’t see I Spit on Your Grave. I know you did, but…

Dave: Problematic in so many ways I can’t really even list them here. And you definitely should stay away from it. It does, however, pass one of my horror tests.

Jen: Which are…

Dave: Horror movies must be either 1) scary 2) gory or 3) make me feel really bad about life and hope and stuff.

Jen: Seriously with that last one?

Dave: Yes. Horror movies should make you feel horrified and horrible. I believe that. If they don’t then they have no reason to exist.

Jen: See, I like British Hammer films and Italian Giallo. Those are great, from back before special effects were good enough to really freak me out. And they were deranged instead of just instilling dread. They were prettier, more stylized. Like Suspiria. Witches in a ballet school with lurid colors and creepy sounds and strange hallways. It’s being remade, you know.

Dave: Don’t remind me. I am always against those. They bring nothing new to the table. Nothing.

Jen: And as much as I like Let Me In, it’s both the exception that proves the rule and, like it or not, still useless.

Dave: Sequels can be all right, but they usually tend to turn the horror into comedy or camp. They Godzilla-fy everything, taking the monster and making it into a beloved pal.

Jen: What are the best horror movies? What are the greatest ones?

Dave: The Exorcist, Halloween, Alien, Nosferatu.

Jen: I will add Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining and Poltergeist to that.

Dave: But you know what? None of those movies, as superlative as they are, have the power to scare me anymore. I know them too well.

Jen: It’s the unknown that’s always the most frightening. That’s why movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity catch people off guard.

Dave: Neither of them looked like horror films so that was a bit of necessary destabilization for the audience.

Jen: And that fear of what’s out there that’s coming for me, the tension of all that, played a big part in those too. So I wonder how Paranormal Activity 2 will make that work.

Dave: Well, I live in hope with that one. But the Saw movies stopped caring about that after the first film. Once you knew the guy behind it all they just became films about the traps and the mechanics of how they operated and the absurd moralism of a serial killer.

Jen: Ugh. Gore. So awful. I hate it. And you like it because… why, again?

Dave: Guts are hilarious. It’s fun to be grossed out. It’s probably never going to happen to you or anyone you know, so why not enjoy watching a fictional human being have their head chopped off? That way you can say you’ve experienced it yourself and it was great and not very painful at all. But yes, it’s not true horror. Gore isn’t scary. It’s just repulsive. To scare me takes a threat. Which is why I am embarrassed to say what I’m about to say.

Jen: Oooh, confession time…

Dave: The horror films that scare me these days are all about the same thing: “Who’s out there in the dark waiting for me? Who’s in the house right now that I don’t know about?” I joke about The Strangers all the time because I realize that it’s just a not very good movie at all. But when I’m home alone, that’s the one I think about. I think about that guy with the bag on his head somehow appearing in my hallway at night.

Jen: See, now you’re freaking me out. I’ll stick with Monster Squad. That’s a classic of a different sort. Kiddie horror.

Dave: Which isn’t horror at all. It’s just goofy monsters for people who were six years old when it came out.

Jen: Like me!

Dave: But I get you. Japanese monster movies are kiddie horror, and they’re a lifelong addiction of mine. And I think they prepare the Japanese population for stuff like Audition [pictured, left] in a way. They allow for anything to happen.

Jen: Audition, nice. And you like The Ring, too, of course?

Dave: The Ring is like chocolate cake. Everyone likes The Ring. I’m also a big fan of a late ‘90s Japanese movie called Cure, about a serial killer who plants murder-impulses into people’s brains.

Jen: Haven’t seen that one.

Dave: Now you recommend something obscure that people might not have seen, and we’ll have accomplished the prescriptive portion of this chat.

Jen: Deep Red [pictured, right]. More Giallo. And House of the Devil, last year’s the Satan-in-the-house indie.

Dave: Oh, good one. Yes, everyone go watch House of the Devil. I want pentagrams and Satanic Panic to come back in style.

Jen: Happy Halloween people. Stay safe.

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